One of the byproducts of living in an area with people of all ages, which is roughly ages 7 through heaven, is the pesky predilection to make well-meaning but risky social conversation.
When we get outside our specific age brackets we tend to mess up the chat.
Invariably, the younger socializers, from adolescence up, address those of us for whom the hair club for men was but a poor investment with good intentions but bad outcomes.
So, here’s well-meaning advice, from us elders to the young folk, offered in the spirit of comity.
Things not to say and why:
• “Hey, old friend, you look great.”
That usually means the young person is surprised to see the elder up and around and not wearing any visible medical apparatuses.
• “Hello dear, (often bending toward the seated elder) how are you feeling? You look wonderful for your age.”
In this example, the endearing term “dear” often sounds less like affection and more like the “dear” in the letter from the collection agency, “Dear Mr. Farmer.”
Please try not to refer to us as dude, daddy-O, old-timer, or any version of, “You’re what, 80 years young?”
• “It’s good to see you up and around.”
Try just, “It’s good you see you.” Any reference to the elder’s vertical position indicates you are surprised to see us ambulatory.
• “What have you been doing with yourself?”
A geezer with a drink or two under his belt might be tempted to answer that with, “Mostly I sit alone in the dark, cleaning my old shotgun, waiting for kids to come play on my lawn.”
• “Honey you don’t look a day over.....”
This is wrong on several levels. First, even mentioning honey to an elderly person can elevate his or her blood sugar to unfortunate levels.
Moreover, when you try to get the number correct, as in “...a day over 83” for example, your chance of making it a compliment is slimmer than winning at Russian roulette. And if you guess way too young, your effort to fake sincerity is blown.
• “Have you had some work done?”
Assuming the clueless whippersnapper who said that was referring to cosmetic surgery, the question assumes a positive response. Because even if the elder has not had a nip/tuck experience, the young pup’s suspicion implies that if not, it’s a first class miracle. And that if so, it was about time.
• “So, when are you going to retire and put your feet up?”
This suggests the questioner is surprised the elder has not retired and made room for some younger person in today’s competitive workplace. The questioner with the phrase, “Put your feet up” either is one big, walking cliche or has no clue what “retired” people do today.
• “Your youthful enthusiasm about life is still infectious.”
I got that one recently from an almost 60-year-old friend. It would be a lot better if he had left out “youthful.” It’s silly. If anything, we geezers have more enthusiasm about life than they do or than we did at their age.
It’s not surprising that when we reach the age when we read obituaries first and don’t buy green bananas, we want to skip or at least stroll down that long and winding road, with Willy Nelson on the iPod in one ear and a companion’s sweet encomium in the other.